La Mesa Leaders Were Wholly Complicit In Their City's Chaos

May 31, 2020

A week of protests and rioting following George Floyd's well-publicized murder in Minneapolis, MN, culminated in a fiery Saturday "Hell Night" around the United States. Leaders in San Diego's La Mesa were in a better position than most precincts to demonstrate apologetic sympathy, following an evidently wrongful arrest of a young man that went viral earlier in the week, yet they chose to do the opposite, escalating violence by firing tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds of protestors. Shame on La Mesa City & their police department. You are complicit in the damage that occurred in your community.

Just two days after the media frenzy surrounding the public murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, when a white officer kept his knee on the right side of Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while several others held him down, on Wednesday, May 27, La Mesa Police Department officer Matt Dages was videotaped harassing, rough-handling and ultimately arresting a 23-year-old African American man, Amaurie Johnson, for what witnesses claim was no more than waiting for his friends at a trolley stop 'while black'. The young man was charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, yet no evidence of these accusations could be seen in the recording. Many called for charges to be dropped and the officer to be suspended without pay, including us at SanDiegoVille. Many pleaded with the city and police department, including us, to do the right thing so that people were not pushed to protests that could ultimately lead to violence. We received flippant replies, if any, and charges remain. La Mesa Police Department finally released a statement saying an independent investigator was appointed to review the matter, just as in 2018 when a white male police officer was videotaped violently slamming a 17-year-old black girl to the ground twice on her high school campus. In that incident, the investigator ultimately determined, without explanation, that the officer's use of force was not excessive.

"This is a challenging time for Mr. Johnson, the Officers, the City, and the Nation," wrote La Mesa City Councilmember, Vice Mayor and Commissioner for the San Diego Ethics Commission Bill Baber after we pressed him with several emails following his initial response - "IDK". "The news from the Minnesota protests is sobering. I watched the La Mesa video several times. I am sure the people involved would like to go back and do things differently. We all make mistakes and I certainly have made my share! I thank God for grace and forgiveness. It’s something we all should extend to everyone. Let’s use this moment to make La Mesa a model city that values tolerance, diversity, and due process."

We responded to Mr. Baber with: "Thank you for that. This can be done by dropping the, pardon my French, bullshit charges and reprimanding the officer accordingly. Stay safe and well. Fight the good fight."

On Saturday, May 30, at a protest planned to take place in front of the La Mesa police station, rather than taking progressive actions like demonstrating empathy, acknowledging and condemning wrongdoing, taking meaningful action against the offending officer, or dropping the false and unjust charges against Mr. Johnson, La Mesa police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at a crowd in response to some protestors throwing rocks and water bottles. Yes, perhaps protestors should have restrained themselves and not succumbed to understandably raw emotions. Maybe they should not have reacted to the intimidating police presence during what was intended to be a peaceful protest, but law enforcement's response using military-grade weaponry can hardly be seen as reasonable force, especially under the circumstances in this current socio-political climate at a protest against that very same use of force and power to historically oppress. One viral scene from the evening shows 59-year-old Leslie Furcron, a grandmother, bleeding profusely from her head after being shot by a bean bag bullet (support her GoFundMe here). As many saw reported by other area news outlets, chaos ultimately erupted with the I-8 being stormed and closed, some buildings being burnt to the ground, looting of retail establishments, and eventually, a curfew imposed. Black Lives Matter San Diego posted a statement claiming the rioters and looters were not the same individuals peacefully protesting earlier in the day.

The scene was a seething sea of anger and disappointment. To be clear, we have been informed by those on the ground and from viewing many hours of video footage, there were many bad actors among the crowds, not just the police. After what had been a peaceful and meaningful day of protest, as night fell, agitators and opportunists seemingly led the path to violence and destruction. The clash between officers and civilians grew, tear gas bombs thrown by police exploded into flames, windows were bashed and broken, offices and small business were looted and enflamed, and complete and utter chaos ruled the streets. Though it may be difficult to discern between the very separate groups and motivations, we must. These outside escalators should be reprimanded and discouraged from stripping this movement of its meaning by drawing such anger, fear, resentment and destruction. Around the United States, there are accusations of protest being hijacked by faction riot groups and agitators. We also see incidents of protesters forming a line of defense around businesses to stop it from being looted.

Meanwhile, police leaders in cities like Santa Cruz, CA, Flint, MI, and Camden, NJ joined the cause of the protestors, expressing empathy and scolding the horrid actions of the police in Minneapolis. This solidarity and support from our law police officers is what we need as a country now more than ever. Continued escalations of violence will do nothing but breed further violence and rancor in response.

We, as a country need to do better from the top down. We need our elected officials and law enforcement to react not with escalated violent force but with compassion and understanding. We need to collectively, no matter the race or creed, hold local, state and federal officials accountable. We must spurn misuses of force and/or policy against one another, especially against those historically oppressed. This great divide will continue to widen if we cannot agree on simple tenets of human decency. We must acknowledge the existence of basic civil and economic rights. Violence only begets violence, but as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "rioting is the language of the unheard." Hear the pleas of the disenfranchised, finally, before our republic burns to the ground.

George Perry Floyd - October 14, 1974 - May 25, 2020